Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University 1963 - Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University 1963
Bob Dylan
Columbia 88697-84743-1

I took my kid to see Bob Dylan at the Hollywood Bowl last fall.  I say "see" but it was more like "hear" since Dylan refused to allow the Bowl's cameras to be trained on him for the the big screen projections on the side of the stage.  Unless you were in the pit, you could barely see him especially since Dylan also kept the stage lights dim so all you could see was a shadowy figure scurrying back and forth from the piano to the front of the stage.  The music was terrific but Dylan barely said a word to the crowd and when he did you could hardly understand his hasty mumbles.  There was a time when Bob wasn't so bashful.  I enjoy hearing his early concerts where he actually deigned to acknowledge his audience and even tell a few stories.  This show was discovered in the collection of the critic Ralph J. Gleason.  It dates from a folk festival at Brandeis University on May 10, 1963 just a few weeks before the release of his breakthrough album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan."  Side one starts with a song from that album, "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance."  The recording starts in the middle of the song.  It is a charming folk blues derived from a 1920s recording by Henry Thomas.  It is followed by "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues," the first of three talking blues songs on the album, which is two too many for me.  This is my favorite of the three.  It presents the viewpoint of a paranoid right-wing fanatic with considerable humor.  It was supposed to appear on "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" but was yanked by record company weasels following the controversy that surrounded Dylan's attempt to perform it on "The Ed Sullivan Show" which was vetoed by CBS television weasels.  You can hear the studio version on the first "Bootleg Series" collection.  Next up is "Ballad of Hollis Brown" which appeared on his third album, "The Times They Are a-Changin'," and which I think is one of the best of his early songs.  It tells the grim tale of a South Dakota farmer who kills himself and his family over despair about his hopeless poverty.  The incessant guitar riff and the apocalyptic imagery of the song foreshadow Dylan's classic "All Along the Watchtower."  The side closes with a powerful performance of "Masters Of War" which also appeared on "Freewheelin.'"  I find many of Dylan's protest songs to be heavy-handed and dated, but this one holds up really well, unfortunately it is still very relevant.  I really dig its venomous tone.  It deservedly gets a rousing response from the audience at this show.  Side two opens with another "Freewheelin'" song, "Talkin' World War III Blues."  The song is a humorous look at a post-nuclear apocalypse.  "Bob Dylan's Dream" is yet another tune from "Freewheelin'" and is set to the melody of a traditional English folk song.  Its poignant and autobiographical tone sets it apart from a lot of Dylan's early songs and it is one of my favorite songs from that era.  Dylan sings it with a lot of feeling in this performance.  The album concludes with "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues" which was an outtake from the "Freewheelin'" sessions which eventually appeared on the first "Bootleg Series" collection.  It is the oldest song on the album dating back to 1961.  Dylan introduces the song by telling the story of the failed picnic that inspired the song.  The song has some humor, but it is pretty slight.  He had so many other better songs by this point, I'm surprised that he still included it in his performance repertoire.  The audience seems to like it though.  I'm really happy with this record.  I dig the retro art work and the high quality pressing.  The sound quality of the original recording is excellent and the performance has a lot of feeling and intimacy.  It is just Dylan with a harmonica and an acoustic guitar but it still sounds rich and satisfying.  It is a very worthy addition to his amazing catalog.  Columbia keeps cranking out these archival Dylan recordings and I've yet to hear one that wasn't really worthwhile.  I hope there are many more still to come.  Recommended to people who love "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan."

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